James Cook: Celebrated North Country Explorer

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Whitby-built ships were used on all the voyages. For the first voyage the collier and cat “Earl of Pembroke” was re-fitted and re-named His Majesty’s Bark “Endeavour”. The vessel had a large hold in which the massive amounts of supplies needed for a long voyage could be stored. She was a flat bottomed ship and so, in the event of an emergency and the absence of a man-made harbour, could be beached for repairs.

For the first voyage Endeavour was converted to accommodate a crew of almost one hundred officers and men, marines and civilians. The ship was the crew’s main home for the three years of the voyage. Conditions were cramped, particularly for the ordinary seamen who lived communally on the main deck. Officers and civilians had small cabins in the ship’s stern. First to be entered on the muster-book, or crew list, is James Cook, First Lieutenant, commander of the ship, who received his commission on 25th May 1768. Two days later he went aboard the Endeavour.

According to the muster-book, or crew list, about 70 men, including the carpenter, boatswain’s mate and sailmaker, servants, able seamen and marines, joined the Endeavour and began receiving wages from 25 May 1768. North Country men who joined the ship included; Thomas Brown from Whitby; Robert Beats from Newcastle; and Robert Stainsby from Darlington. The two former left the ship at the end of June but Stainsby sailed on the voyage and became one of the first of the ship’s crew to be tattooed at Tahiti.

On arrival in the Bay of Success, Tierra del Fuego Cook wrote, “Having found a convenient place on the s side of the Bay to wood and Water at, we set about that work in the morning.” (Cook, Journals I, 45, 16 January 1769). After long periods at sea fresh supplies had to be collected whenever a landfall was made. The crew worked hard to fill the ship’s casks with large amounts of local produce, either collected or traded with the native peoples and fresh water from streams and rivers.

A ship’s master and commander was responsible for keeping a record of a voyage, including details of the ship’s course, weather conditions, observations and events. Cook and some of his crew kept very detailed records of their experiences, including descriptions of the native peoples, flora and fauna of the places visited and especially dramatic events such as shipwreck.

Cook recorded the near fatal striking of the Great Barrier Reef, Australia, and subsequent attempts to save the ship:
Shoale the water from 20 to 17 fath. and before the man in the chains could have another cast (of the sounding lead) the ship struck and lay fast on some rocks upon which we took in all our sails, hoisted out the boats and sounded round the ship and found that we had got upon the edge of a reef of coral rocks which lay to the NW of us, having in some some places round the ship 3 or 4 fathoms and in others ab0out as many feet …Turn’d all hands to lighten the ship and in order to do this we not only started water but hove over board guns, Iron and stone ballast, Casks, Hoops, Staves oyle Jars, decay’d stores and whatever was of weight or lay in the way at coming at heavy articles all this time the ship made but little water.” (Cook, Journals, 1, 11 June 1770)

On striking the Great Barrier Reef in June 1770 the Endeavour was holed and started to flood. The crew had to work frantically to pump out the water to keep the ship afloat and Cook had to find a suitable place to beach the ship and carry out repairs. Fortunately a landing place was soon found at the mouth of what Cook named the Endeavour River.

Thanks to a combination of sheer hard work and great seamanship after hitting the reef, Cook managed to get the badly damaged Endeavour ashore. The whole ship’s crew toiled on the pumps and threw overboard expendable heavy objects stored in the hold, such as spare anchors and cannons, to make the ship lighter. They also carried out fothering which involved hauling a large piece of sail cloth over the hole to stop the flood of sea water.

Cook described the process:
The leak now decreaseth but for fear it should break out again we got the Sail ready fill’d for fothering. The manner this is done is thus, we Mix ockam & wool together and chop it up small and than stick it loosly by handfulls all over the sail and throw over it sheeps dung or other filth. Horse dung for this purpose is the best. The sail thus prepared is hauld under the Ships bottom by ropes and if the place of the leak is uncertain it must be hauld from one part of her bottom to another until the place is found where it takes effect; while the sail is under the Ship the ockam & ca. is washed off and part of it carried along with the water into the leak and in part stops up the hole.” (Cook, Journals, 1, 12-13 June 1770)

Cook described preparations for the repair of the Endeavour:
Fresh gales and Clowdy with showers of rain. At 1 PM the Ship floated and we warped her into the Harbour and moor’d along side of a steep beach on the south side. Got the Anchors Cables and all the Hawsers a shore. In the AM made a stage from the Ship to the Shore, erected two tents one for the Sick and the other fro the Stores. Landed the Empty Casks and all the dry provisions and sent a boat to haul the sene without success.
(Cook, Journals, 1, Monday 18th June 1770)

…PM employed landing the provisions and stores. AM got the 4 guns out of the main hold and mounted them on the quarter deck. Got a spare Anchor and Anchor stock out of the hold also landed the remaining part of the stores and ballast and set up the Armour forge (to make nails for repairing the ship).” (Cook, Journals, 1, Tuesday 19th June 1770)

For nearly two months between June and August 1770 the ship’s craftsmen, carpenters, and crew worked on repairing the hole in the ship’s hull. The materials needed to carry out the repairs, including timber, iron, rope and tar, were landed ashore along with heavy items, including the anchors. In early August Endeavour was successfully refloated and by the middle of month was sailing outside the Great Barrier Reef leaving Australia.

Cook’s ships carried smaller boats that were launched in order to take crew ashore or to transport supplies to the ship. They were similar in scale and size to the boats of the native peoples whom Cook came across on his voyages. The first sight of a large ship with its tall masts, sails and wooden walls that could belch cannon fire, would have astonished these peoples.

Formerly known as the “Marquis of Rockingham”, Resolution was Cook’s chosen ship on the second and third voyages. Following his experience of sailing in the Endeavour he had become convinced that only “North Country built ships, such as are built for the coal trade” were suitable. Resolution travelled with the “Adventure” (“Marquis of Granby”) on the second voyage (1772-75) and “Discovery” on the third voyage (1776-80).

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